Doing Deals with Ivan Clements
Raising the money is one thing, but finding ways to save your money is the best way to raise 'free' cash! Doing deals is the core skill of any producer.
We did this interview with Ivan for the Guerilla Filmmakers Pocketbook.
Q - How do you get great deals?
Ivan - I should preface this with the fact that you need to be passionately driven by the project that you are involved in. If you are not sold on the project, then how can you sell anyone else? Pick up the phone and start talking to people. It’s amazing how much people want to help in this business. And everyone is very forgiving of naiveté. It seems to me that almost everyone has been through mountains of crap to get where they are. Unlike school, where inflicting the same pain on newbies as was once metered on them is held in high regard, peers in the film business seem to actually want to help. How mad is that?
Q - How do you deal with the fear of picking up the phone and cold calling?
Ivan - Making the first call is always the hardest. It’s a bit like approaching someone you fancy. You’re full of excitement but you fear rejection. Just take the plunge. If you get rejected first time, remember, there are plenty of others to try. Have you seen the size of the ‘Knowledge’ in the UK? Or the ‘Hollywood Creative Directory’ in LA? Both are big directories, really big. Another great way to look at it is not that it’s cold calling, but rather rapport practice (thanks to Gary Craig for that).
Q - Why would anyone give you something for free?
Ivan - I never view it as getting something free. I prefer to view it as relationship development. What you’re saying to whomever you are trying to get to collaborate with you is this, ‘roll with me on this and you’ll get my future business and referrals’. And you better be good on your word. If a lab gives you an unbelievable deal, make sure you go back to that lab with paid work. This will give you credibility and the word will spread. Go bad on your word and people won’t let you use their toilet let alone notice that you’re alive.
Q - Why do you think others don’t get such great deals?
Ivan - I’m not sure really. I can only tell you what I do to achieve results. Be funny. Most of the time this business is merciless if you’re not on the creative side. Make someone’s day with a giggle and you’ll get miles ahead. Lift spirits, cajole, be cheeky, ask for the moon always, always be VERY thankful for whatever you get. Make them feel like merciful gods. People like to feel that they have done something amazing for someone else. Don’t you?
Q - How do you know what to ask for? If it costs 100 grand, how much should you try and get it for?
Ivan - Something I learnt early on is never to pay rate card. If you’ve actually got money to spend, you should be able to get at least 40% off that quoted rate. That was minimum for me. 50-60% is achievable. It’s not unusual. Here’s a deal I negotiated with a well known film stock company which we’ll call Major Film.
I needed 100,000 feet of 35mm stock. Rate at the time was 24p per foot which came to £24K + tax. At the time, this was way beyond anything I could afford. I invited the chief sales exec for a drink in a bar on Wardour Street, central London. I began by talking about HIM and his life (we later on became good friends). I definitely wanted to go with this company as they were much more friendly and accessible to guerrilla film makers like myself. After a few drinks we drifted into the deal. I said ‘look Joe (real name withheld), I’m only doing this deal with Major Film because of you. But I’m absolutely flat broke’.
‘So Joe’, I continued ‘How about this? I’ve got £8K I can give you today if you can defer the balance till we hit profits and the VAT until I get that back next quarter?’ It was the ballsiest ask I’d made so far, but also the easiest in a way as I had no choice. There was no more money. Joe laughed, ‘you’ve eaten the ass out of my trousers.’ We shook on it and I bought another round.
Q - What helps sell the deal?
Ivan - Yeah, this is where you can get really creative. Get a great DP who’s looking to break out of commercials and into film. They’re usually wealthy and will happily work for free. Then when you go to hire equipment and lights, mention who the DP is and that he’s agreed to use them exclusively on the next few jobs if they’ll give you a major deal. Or, if you’ve managed to land a known actor, use that to attract a great DP or other great cast. I got a top class camera operator on my second film simply because he’d done several huge Hollywood movies and had a month to kill. Sell the sizzle of your project and people will come. Sometimes they’ll work for peanuts and sometimes even free or deferred payment. As a guerrilla film maker, you’ve got to be creative. Tell a DP you’ve got an A lister gagging to play lead role (unfortunately the actors often pull out at the last minute – but by then everyone is committed).
Q - Where do you find investors?
Ivan - This is the harder side of getting your film made. You’ve got the great script and now you need the finance to make it. Unless you’re independently wealthy and can finance the project, you’re going to have to raise the finance elsewhere. And there’s no easy answer to finding investors. Family and friends. Network through them, they usually know someone who knows someone. I personally prefer private investment as you are in control of the project. If you go for public money sources, like the Film Council in the UK, or other deals in other countries, there are always strings attached and hoops to jump through. But if you’re happy with that, all well and good.
Q - What were your biggest mistakes as a producer?
Ivan - Underestimating the catering budget. I can’t tell you how important this is on set. On my first feature, where the money was tight, I had near rioting because of the poor quality of the food. I acted fast and all was ok. FEED YOUR CREW PROPERLY!!! Especially the camera crew or you’re likely to find a dolly wedged somewhere fairly unpleasant.
Though I successfully made two features with people working for deferred fees (the only way I managed what I did), I would advise not taking this route as it takes away some of your power. You’re reliant on good will and have to work that much harder to keep everyone on your side. From their point of view, they don’t have to take any shit, and can walk any time. On my second film, I had to constantly replace camera crew and gaffers because they had to take paid work when it came up. Praise your crew as often as possible. Everyone wants to hear they are doing a good job. On set it will often become VERY stressed and from time to time, people will blow. Let them do it, and let them do it to you if possible and simply soak it up and don’t react. Walk away once they’ve finished and talk to them later. It’s usually momentary and in time will seem insignificant.
Q - What advice would you offer a new film maker?
Ivan - That’s rather a broad question. First, obviously read GFMH! Do any of Chris’ courses while he still has a chance to do them. Do Dov Simmens. Read Robert Rodriguez’ 10 minute film school which is free online. Then get to it. Set a date that you’re actually going to start principal photography no matter what.
Raise as much money as you can and actually start filming. Make a feature first, don’t waste time with a short unless you have a very good reason for doing so (you can read all about why Chris and I decided to go down the short route in his book).
Features are much easier to sell than shorts. But seriously, get or write a great script that means something to you, challenges values, makes people think. You will only learn the true craft of film making by doing it. It’s wonderful, fulfilling, scary, heartbreaking, back breaking, exciting, fun…the list goes on. And I can’t get enough of it. Good luck to all of you.